The Lengthening of the Days

Schmidt announced his 35 man Six Nations training squad yesterday, and the newcomers – McCloskey, Stander, van der Flier and Dillane – have been rewarded for strong recent form. The internet was getting slightly #OUTRAGE-d as misplaced rumours swirled that Stander wouldn’t make it – Munster fans were particularly vocal in their opposition to Stander being picked, continuing a long tradition of opposition to project players being selected for Ireland (see Strauss, R.), but they were left disappointed as Schmidt continued his own tradition of picking the best available players (see Payne, J.).

Truth is, the squad didn’t really tell us much – 35 players were picked; DJ Church, Ross and Henry will be added later; and NWJMB, POM, Tuohy and Bowe were name-checked as being too crocked to be considered. The only notable absentee from the World Cup is Jordi Murphy, who has effectively been replaced by Stander. If anything, it’s a form call.  Stander has been explosive all season, Murphy has been playing poorly at Leinster.  The Mole had a good post-RWC piece on how Murphy might best move his career forward, and he has some thinking to do.

Garry Ringrose doesn’t make the squad, with management seemingly of a mind to keep him developing at Leinster before exposing him to this level.  He’s quite obviously a test player in waiting, and it would have quickened the pulse if he was selected, but romantic notions will have to be put aside for now.  Most likely he’ll be capped in the summer.

The big questions about the match day 23 selection are still out there, and how Ireland may (or may not) change their gameplan, and we’ll be looking at them over the next couple of weeks:

Who starts at tighthead against Wales in Ross’ absence – if it’s Furlong, and he performs well, Ross might never start for Ireland again.  Most likely it’ll be Nathan White, who stands accused of ruck inspecting, but is dependable in the scrum

The second row is a potential car crash – while England have Itoje, Kruis, Launchbury and Lawes and Wales have Charteris, Davies and AWJ, we’ll need to craft a serviceable second row from Toner (fine), McCarthy (in the form of his career, but still), Ryan (struggling to regain anything like his best form) and Dillane. Dillane is listed as being the same height and weight as Itoje, although a year older.  It will be fascinating to see if he can play a part, it’s possible to see him as an impact sub going in alongside the elder statesman (!) Toner on the hour mark.  We’re hopeful we’ll see more of Toner’s best Brodie Retallick impression as midfield distributor, especially as O’Mahony – the only other forward who tends to perform this role – is injured.

The roles of the in-form newbies. McCloskey and Stander are not just two of the form players in Ireland, but in Europe. Can Choo Choo Stu break up the Henshaw-Payne partnership? He’s certainly the most natural inside centre in the squad, is an intelligent footballer with an eye for space and has yet to find a ceiling. At number 8, Stander will have a job replacing Heaslip, who was one of Ireland’s best players in the RWC. There is an accepted wisdom that Heaslip will somehow benefit from competition, like he isn’t quite producing his best for Ireland, but our expectation is he’ll continue his quiet excellence, Stander or no Stander. CJ is in the mix for the available blindside slot with Rhys Ruddock, but Schmidt may just lean towards Ruddock for his lineout ability, which is one area where O’Mahony’s presence will be most keenly felt.  An impact bench role is the most likely starting point for Stander. Although maybe not against Wales – if Gatty unleashes his double openside trump card (do you do anything else with Justin Tipuric?) maybe it’s better to have O’Donnell there.

Interestingly, Ulster (i.e. Kissy, Schmidt’s mate) selected Jared Payne at fullback against Saracens – was it an understandable desire to keep a returning key man out of heavy traffic against a brilliant team, or something more? Rob Kearney is a very different full back from the likes of Ben Smith, Folau, le Roux, Hogg and Mike Brown and it’s hard to envisage him entering the line at first or second receiver and giving Ireland an extra attacking string to their bow. But then again, Schmidt has only ever selected Payne at outside centre.

We’ll be back with more ponderings, but isn’t it getting exciting? The Six Nations! We’ve won the last two, remember? The arrival of spring, and the inevitable slew of atrocious games. Oh and Ringrose OUTRAGE.

Advertisements

54 Comments

  1. connachtexile

     /  January 21, 2016

    Seriously think Schmidt should have brought Aly Muldowney into the squad, the man is in the form of his life, is a vice captain at Connacht and has that grunt we’re missing with POC gone. I understand he’s 32 but second rows are capable of being around for a long time. Don’t get me wrong I’m trilled to see Dillane in there but would have liked to have Muldowney get his shot for a 3 in a row and Dillane capped over the summer with a eye for him being around for Japan.

    • In fairness to Schmidt Aly (and TOH) have had one or two less than brilliant games lately after stellar form earlier in the season (but hey, far worse runs of form haven’t stopped Zebo, Ryan and others from making the squad).

      However the lock selection is very unbalanced – McCarthy’s the only TH lock. Toner and Dillane don’t play TH side except for the occasional 15 minutes at the end of games and Ryan doesn’t even give that option (not even for his province).

      So there were definitely arguments (form, ability on the ball, ability to scrummage on TH side) for including Muldowney even if he isn’t viewed as a long term option. He’ll be 36 in 2019 but given his position and his lack of miles on the clock – he played his first semi-pro game for Moseley at 25 and his first pro game for Glasgow at 27 – my money would very much be on him lasting that long.

      The real head-scratcher from a Connacht point-of-view is Healy’s omission in favour of Zebo, Average Dave, and Trimble (is he actually fit? He had a mare-and-three-quarters at the Sportsground over Christmas).

      • jacothelad

         /  January 21, 2016

        I don’t remember Trimble being particularly bad in that game but I do remember Healy being awful. He was dreadful and looked like he’d never seen a rugby ball before. Which is a pity because he has the pace that high quality wingers need. He just needs to learn to catch, tackle, defend rucks and mauls if needed and kick and he’ll be heading in the right direction.

        • connachtexile

           /  January 21, 2016

          If you think Healy can’t do any of those things then sit down and watch the Connacht Brive game it will be an eye opener for you.

  2. ruckinhell

     /  January 21, 2016

    Very few eyebrow-raisers and at least the extended squad is a nod to form over reputation. Zebo can probably count himself a very lucky boy after what must have been a video nasty viewing experience post his Paris horror-show. Joe would no doubt be tearing his hair out especially at the Harlem Globetrotteresque no look over the shoulder toss which nearly gave up a try in the first half if it hadn’t been for the great recovery of Saili and O’Mahony.

    I care less about the composition of the team for the game against Wales than the manner in which we set out to play. The game has clearly evolved and if we revert to the high phase/low ambition attritional style of play that we have deployed against Wales in the last 6N and France in the RWC I think we’re in for a long couple of years and an even longer injury list. Our kick chase excellence has been well and truly sussed and aligning this to one out bashing is not ideal; Wales in particular are 100% the wrong team to deploy this against as it plays right into Warrenball and the thing is we actually do have the players for a more expansive game. We’ll have at least two game breakers in the back row (SOB plus one of Stander/Ruddock) plus at least one powerful runner in midfield (ideally two in McCloskey and Henshaw) and I’d hope we’d use these to punch holes to create opportunities for quick ball rather than use them as one out bashers as we have done in the past.

    On this, I would note that the fluency of the Ulster play this year has very much been aligned to the excellence of Paddy Jackson’s passing as well as the renaissance of Luke Marshall at 13 (if one can apply that term to a 24 year old!). If Henshaw isn’t fit or is now seen as an out and out 12 by Joe then I’d like to see Marshall given a run at 13 instead of Payne. He’s a bit more defensively solid and strikes me as a far more natural distributor at 13 than Payne (who is no slouch in this area either). My ideal starting backline with all fit is Murray, Sexton, Trimble, McCloskey, Henshaw, Fitz, Payne with Earls on the bench but if we do decide to play the one out runner for 15+ phases the backline selection won’t matter.

  3. It’s the standard Schmidt approach to Ireland squads so far. Include (nearly) everyone at the start to avoid controversy (and send it out by e-mail so pundits can make their own conclusions) and then pare down.

    There really isn’t much of a surprise to anything yesterday though. Rory got the captaincy, and quite likely won the hearts of folks everywhere with his TV interviews. It was a no brainer, especially considering he’s the most experienced member of the squad now.

    As per usual, the question comes down to the matchday squads. I’d hope that Joe makes changes to the team and gameplan, but with new blood coming in and being a defense coach down I won’t be surprised if for the first two games it’s as close to the RWC first choice team and gameplan as he can get. Choo Choo might make it in, but I’d agree that Stander’s probably going to be on the bench initially.

  4. Ringrose: slightly disappointed but this is only the squad for the next two games, he might still feature. Also, having four uncapped players, one from each province, did allow the IRFU to send out that hashtag shoulder to shoulder tweet yesterday. I’m sure the media team loved it.

    I’m pretty pleased with the squad, but crucial bit here:

    Rob Kearney is a very different full back from the likes of Ben Smith, Folau, le Roux, Hogg and Mike Brown and it’s hard to envisage him entering the line at first or second receiver and giving Ireland an extra attacking string to their bow. But then again, Schmidt has only ever selected Payne at outside centre.

    I would say that the nature of the full back position has changed since the late noughties, and Rob Kearney has not changed with it (actually going the other way). Full back is now a position from where you get some space, either in wide channels or returning kicks, and every other major team (sensibly in my opinion) aside from Wales has an attacking weapon there, someone with a major strength the ability to do things when given space. RK has developed himself into a no-frills, no-mistakes player.

    I’ve short and long-term views on this: unless RK changes his approach (and he was always a talented footballer so he could, but I think it’s maybe too late to change habits) then that would be great, but in Jared Payne we have a ready-made modern (for want of a better word) full back. I would pick him, 100%. Also, in Simon Zebo, we have another player who I think could offer more than RK at the minute.

    Long-term, I think that should be our approach to full back. For instance, when he gets back to fitness, I think Stuart Olding should play 15 as much as possible for Ulster (difficult with Payne in the squad and the pretty, pretty good Piutau coming next year, but I think it’s his position).

    • ORiordan

       /  January 21, 2016

      Rumours are that Olding will be looking to play at 10 when he returns. That’s not a bad call given wee PJ will be away a lot with Ireland and Ulster’s back-up 10s are currently iHumphs and some other bloke few will have heard of.

      If he can it make a success, it may also be OK for his Ireland prospects as a replacement for Madigan as a 10/12/utility back.

      • connachtexile

         /  January 21, 2016

        Makes sense to have Olding concentrate on ten. You have a glut of option in the centre and no-one apart from Jackson as a credible ten as Humphries tackling seems to have gotten worse since his sabbatical at London Irish not better.

        • That’s all interesting. If he can become a pro ten that would be great – but, with PJ there, if he wants to be first choice I think it will be at full back. In the next couple of seasons however he could do a great job in the 22 shirt covering out half as well as other spots in the backline.

          He’s actually starting for the A team tomorrow night (at 13 but I wouldn’t think that necessarily means anything at all).

          • PJ form was much better in his break through season when he was competing with ihumph for the jersey. At the beginning of the season when both ihumph and PJ went down all of a sudden there was nobody. Focussing on the 10 gives Olding more opportunity to build game time as there is a credible alternative to PJ. The competition should improve both players form.

          • ehhweasel

             /  January 27, 2016

            For the love of god send him down to Munster where he’ll start as long as he’s fit. Could even pay him into his sterling bank account with the Euro bouncing back

          • Would Jack O’Donoghue or Stander be coming to Ulster?

        • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

           /  January 21, 2016

          Also an excellent point about Olding as potentially the new utility back if Mads really is out of sight, out of mind.

          • Oh great, another potentially world-class Irish international player who’s career can be screwed up! Eh, no thanks, actually. I would hate to see Olding given the run around like Madigan was 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. It was a disaster for Madigan’s development as a player and likely the same thing would happen to Olding.

      • Stephen

         /  January 22, 2016

        Have we all forgotten about Peter Nelson? Who looked competent enough at 10 to be a servicable second-choice. Olding should be a 12/15/(possibly) 13 – he’s a better version of Madigan, in having the ability to cut a defence to ribbons whilst not necessarily having the temperament for controlling a game from first receiver.

    • Jimble

       /  January 21, 2016

      Zebo at full-back always makes me nervous. He reads attacking opportunities really well and his passing has improved hugely, but his defence is so questionable and he’s prone to dodgy decision-making, which at full-back can be very costly. I agree though that Kearney is looking more out-of-date with each passing season, and I’d love to see Payne given a run there at some stage with McCloskey & Henshaw in the centre.

  5. Billy

     /  January 21, 2016

    Pretty happy all told – glad the nonsensical Ringrose hype train has been derailed but I’m sure after we fail to score four tries in each of our games, he’ll be “just the attacking spark Ireland crave”. I put him in the same boat as JOD – highly promising but physically not ready for the international game. In any case he’s not even Leinster’s best 13, or even possibly their 2nd best (Te’o and Fitz) so why should we be looking to cap him? We have three good options in Henshaw, Payne and Fitz there anyway.

    I always feel like Ruddock has been on the verge of being a really good player for a very long time without ever quite achieving it and I feel the broken arm has set him back a bit too. Still a handy player though. That said, Stander is a bit of a one trick pony and I don’t think he’ll be anywhere near as impactful at international level as he is at club level but his form definitely warrants selection.

    I really hope Furlong makes the three jersey his own. One striking feature for me from the Argentina game was how much Herrera contributed around the pitch (as well as the scrum) versus Ross who pretty much acts as a special teams player. Furlong could be this guy even if we lose a bit in the scrum while he’s bedding in.

    Glad to see Murphy and Henry cut – Henry, despite seeming like a great guy and a totally honest player, has never had the athleticism to be considered international quality and I hope TOD and JVDF have usurped him and this isn’t just an injury absence. Murphy is a bit of a Madigan to me. A pretty mediocre player who somehow has become a cause celebre by stirring some latent among the Leinster faithful. I feel if you could combine Murphy’s athleticism and Henry’s toil you could have a tasty player.

    All told a promising selection and I hope we see form rewarded in the shape of McCloskey, Stander, JVDF, Marmion, Jackson, Fitz, Cronin ahead of reputation when it comes to team selection.

    • I might be wrong, but wasn’t Henry our turnover leader in 2014? At the very least, he was on similar numbers to POM, albeit with more minutes on the pitch

      • Billy

         /  January 21, 2016

        He was very good in the 2014 6N and certainly the best available option at the time but now, 2 years on, I’d see him as having fallen behind TOD and maybe JVDF.

        Very likeable player but too often looks like a manufactured 7 – a poor man’s Chris Robshaw.

        • Very good in the 2014 6N but never international quality? He’s had a fantastic, if relatively brief, Ireland career so far. Can’t see him making the next World Cup so would expect him to lose out on 50/50 calls from now on.

          • Billy

             /  January 21, 2016

            I’ll put it to you this way – which other 6N teams would Henry make? Scotland and Italy possibly but not definitely..? Any southern hemisphere teams?

          • If you want an honest answer then he might not get in many of those teams now, but that’s because you cross a threshold after a WC and he is 31. He would have been a first choice flanker for England for the past few years, and Scotland and France and Italy. No, not Wales, but then us and them had the best back rows in the NH in the last WC cycle. None of that is, of course, especially relevant to his Ireland selection, which is based on relative quality of compatriots.

          • ehhweasel

             /  January 27, 2016

            Have to call spoof on France there. There is no way he would displace Dusatoir. Agree with the rest.

      • jacothelad

         /  January 21, 2016

        Henry would be very upset at you for claiming he was only equal to POM. His stats are superior in every measure but sure, he doesn’t have the ‘pashun’ and Oscar quality jersey pulling once the ref has blown the whistle. However that was in 2014. Since returning from injury he has been less effective. With SOB and Stander fit – and TOD being a bit better this season there is probably no need for Henry to hold tackle bags.

        • Henry was excellent for us that year, and this lack of athleticism shite that’s bandied around is exactly that. Remember his one handed offload for Sexton’s try in the France match? The last known offload in Irish rugby…He was also playing out of his skin for Ulster the previous 2 seasons but was ridiculously marginalised by Kidney. Should have a lot more caps than he does, but to be fair his best days look behind him. Good player to have in the squad, but I’d like to see a lot more of TOD in green, who’s looked quite good under Joe. I think Joe’s 1950s gameplan bodes better for Henry than TOD though.

          • Stephen

             /  January 22, 2016

            Hey now – we offloaded once or twice against Canada and Romania.

  6. ORiordan

     /  January 21, 2016

    Henry isn’t cut. As mentioned in the article, he is injured and will be joining the squad when fit.

    • Billy

       /  January 21, 2016

      As I understand it he just wasn’t considered due to injury, which is neither here nor there but I guess we’ll see – it would be strange to select four 7s in the squad unless there are plans to move SOB.

      More to the point – I think it’s time we moved on from him. He’s not the answer.

      • Bit harsh. Similar to the debate on Heaslip. It all depends on the combination in the backrow. Even the great SOB was done by Tupiric in the Wales game last year. If anything it will be interesting to see how many groundhogs Joe has starting.

  7. curates_egg

     /  January 21, 2016

    Surprised you think either Furlong or White will start vs Wales. It has been very clear who the Irish team’s number 2 is in that position and the effort Schmidt made to keep Moore indicates nothing has changed. Why do you not even mention him? I’d have him as favourite to start vs Wales.

    As for Gatty going with Tipuric and Warburton: isn’t there a good chance Warburton won’t make it? Lydiate has also been nursing a shoulder injury for a while. Tipuric has meanwhile been in typically scintillating form but Gatty still seems not to think he is as good as everyone else does. It was the same with Biggar but I doubt Gatty could countenance not picking him now.

    • This is an annual conversation – Tipuric is class, and he should play. But the reality is that Warbs is *brilliant* – better than any of our backrows and a fantastic leader. He must play, and that impacts Tips selection

      • curates_egg

         /  January 21, 2016

        But he’s injured and is touch and go to be fit for the Ireland game.

        How come you are ignoring Moore?

        • Billy

           /  January 21, 2016

          I don’t know what other people think but I think the jury is still very much out on Moore. He’s good for at least one good turnover a match but his scrummaging is very patchy. I’d like to see him get a prolonged run as first choice 3 at Leinster before making any real judgment. Furlong is potentially a much more rounded player and White is more of a known quantity in my eyes.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 21, 2016

            White is definitely more of a known quantity. We know he doesn’t offer anything outside the scrum. I really don’t see the point in starting him.

            Ross’ injury has hastened the need to choose his replacement. Moore is very good at the breakdown; Furlong is a great carrier. I don’t think it is yet clear if one is a significantly better scrummager than the other. Clearly, the Leinster set up thinks highly of Furlong. However, the Irish set up seems to think highly of Moore.

          • Billy

             /  January 21, 2016

            I thought that was a funny one to be honest. The only party that really benefits is Leinster so you have to wonder if Schmidt had his Leinster hat on a little for that one. I think Moore, and therefore Ireland, would benefit from having a TH consistently playing in a much better scrummaging league, as opposed to mostly benchwarming in an inferior league. If international player access to limited to the agreed-upon windows then he wouldn’t miss any training time so I’m not sure why Schmidt intervened, if he indeed did.

      • Warburton isn’t as good as O’Brien. But he is excellent, and I can see why Wales do what they do.

        • ehhweasel

           /  January 27, 2016

          “Warburton isn’t as good as O’Brien.” That needs to be qualified with a bit of context. If you judge a fish on how well he plays the clarinet…etc etc. They have different skill sets and are both world class at what they do.

  8. Amiga500

     /  January 21, 2016

    Oh and whiff, you forgot the BIG news….

    No more “play, pause, rewind…. fast forward…. past McGurk’s bits…. to my bits”

  9. Cian

     /  January 21, 2016

    “Ross might never start for Ireland again” – how many times have we seen that over the past two years? At this rate I think Mike Ross will still be locking out scrums when Ringrose is winding up his inevitable glorious career as Ireland and Blackrock’s new greatest ever outside centre.

  10. Jimble

     /  January 21, 2016

    Four hookers seems a bit excessive, even for a risk-averse man like Schmidt. Surely the squad could have benefited from an extra lock or centre instead?

    • Cronin and Strauss are in their late 20s and have never looked like viable starting internationals. Best seems ageless but… Herring seems earmarked as his successor both as captain and hooker at Ulster, so you can sort of see the logic in bringing him in if he’s also been identified as the likely starting 2 at the next RWC.

      • Jimble

         /  January 21, 2016

        I agree, but why not leave one of Cronin or Strauss out in that case? I’d keep Cronin for his running threat. But four locks – one uncapped and one struggling to find form after a lengthy hiatus – looks like an area of potential weakness.

        • Second row doesn’t look strong – the major weak point, in face – but four locks is plenty for two games and there is no-one both better than what’s there and fit. Bringing in extra guys doesn’t necessarily improve the options.

        • ehhweasel

           /  January 27, 2016

          We’re a bit shagged in the second row rather that it being a tactical choice I reckon.

      • Strauss never looked like a viable international? Seriously? He was very good in the World Cup whenever he came on and has been consistently very good this season for Leinster. Set piece nigh on perfect and his rucking and jackling skills pretty much back to what they were in the Leinster glory days. He is easily….EASILY the 2nd choice behind Best, and an excellent international quality hooker to have as 2nd choice. The concern for me is his health, in regards to concussions – but in my opinion I would have him ahead of Cronin all day long of late. Cronin has the dynamism sure….but his set piece is continually under question and this has to be solid for him to be considered, especially for tight international tests.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 25, 2016

        Only someone who has paid no attention to Strauss could claim that.

  11. shaw knee oh bee

     /  January 21, 2016

    Firstly, agree with calls for Muldowney, and both Gilroy and Healy have a right to feel aggrieved to not be featuring when Zebo has looked so disinterested. I do believe that Joe has kept faith where Gatty would not, but the humane conservative nature of Irish people will continue to strike a chord with Schmidt. Its like he’s one of our own, and Gatty never was in the same way. I firmly believe that he was the coach who could bring out the Martin Johnson in England and they should have offered him silly money to come and show them how to boss people again; as at odds with current styles as that might be. I can’t imagine what will happen to Welsh rugby when he leaves them.
    Hard to over-estimate the value of winning the first match. I think they are both consummate professionals and seem like awfully decent guys but I really hope that I don’t see either of the Kearneys starting that game. A bold expansive game with McCloskey and Henshaw in the centre, Payne at full back, Earls and Trimble on the wings, Conor and Johnny the half back pairing obviously, though Jackson can feel aggrieved at a punt not being taken on him. Put simply it ain’t gonna happen. Payne could well keep his 13 slot and Henshaw move back to 15. His direct running coming up in different places in the offensive line would hopefully keep the Welsh honest. Get outside their frightening linespeed and Earls and Henshaw could do damage out wide. If the Kearneys do start, I feel like we won’t have learned anything new and we won’t be able to grow; as Rob said, his game is built on damage limitation. The big danger is AWJ (the next POC) and Charteris rattling our lineout and starving us of the almost guaranteed possession that all of our successes have been built on. Ruddock will probably start with that in mind. Other than 6, there aren’t a whole lot of marginal calls, particularly when you take into account Donncha Ryan’s recent form versus McCarthy’s. Heaslip is going to start. There really are no easy games. The building of this team’s identity under a new captain, and in the light of the heart-wrenching quarter final exit, will be really fascinating. Come on Schmidty, let’s be havin’ ya!

  1. Articles of the week, 23 Jan – The Chase
%d bloggers like this: